Commercial flights back at Williamsport Regional Airport in late May | News, Sports, Jobs
Customers in late May will be able to fly from Williamsport on a trip that takes about an hour to a major airport in the Washington, D.C. area.
The flights will be operated by Southern Airways Express (Southern), an airline subsidiary of Surf Air Mobility. The air service will begin to offer 10 nine-passenger flights per week from Williamsport Regional Airport to Washington Dulles International. The flights are scheduled to begin May 23, according to officials gathered Monday for a news conference at the terminal.
There’s been no commercial carrier since 2021 at the regional airport in Montoursville.
“All I can say is ‘wow,’” said Mark Cestari, chief commercial officer with Southern Airways Corp., a Bostonian who said he drove from Philadelphia to attend the conference.
Cestari admired the regional airport, which was built using materials such as the timber ceiling, a tribute to when Williamsport was lumber capital of the world.
“I didn’t realize until now how beautiful this building is,” Cestari said. “This is going to be our most attractive building.”
He said Southern would be training 25 to 30 airline pilots per month at its facility at DuBois Airport.
Travelers departing Dulles can skip a multi-hour drive and fly directly to or from the regional airport on one of 10 weekly flights, he said.
Partnering with the regional airport allows Surf Air to expand on the federally funded Essential Air Service program in locations not presently eligible for that program, as described by federal and state lawmakers who have contributed their time and effort into restoring commercial airline service and connections.
Stan Little, CEO of Surf Air, through a statement, noted how Williamsport is at the forefront of a new era of regional mobility.
“Their forward-thinking approach helps to expand access to convenient air travel that connects their community with the larger commercial air service networks,” Little said.
Surf Air’s mission is to find innovative solutions to the lack of viable regional connectivity.
As such, through Southern’s interline and distribution agreements, passengers flying to and from Williamsport will have “seamless connection” at Dulles on United, American and Alaska Airlines, including through-bag transfer.
Additionally, travelers using Williamsport will have free parking at the airport and those staying local to the D.C. area will have metro rail service between Dulles and the nation’s capital.
Surf Air Mobility, with Southern Airways and Mokulele Airlines subsidiaries, is the largest commuter airline in the U.S. by scheduled departures.
Having commercial service back here addresses a major challenge for the business community since we first lost it in 2022,” said Jason Fink, CEO and president of the Williamsport Lycoming Chamber of Commerce.
Frank Pellegrino, chairman of the Williamsport Regional Airport Authority, remarked on how the airport has been an institution in the area for over 90 years and would soon celebrate its 95th year as a commercial airport.
These are challenging times for small regional commercial airports — the subject of boardroom discussions, social media reports and evening dinner conversations, he said.
Small airports have had to overcome hurdles such as those caused by the pandemic, including a rush of retirements of pilots, leaving a shortage, along with rising fuel costs, equipment and parts delayed due to supply chain issues.
U.S. Rep. Dan Meuser, R-Dallas, was among those who advocated for the airport reestablishing commercial flights.
At the conference, Meuser, who represents the Congressional 9th District, cited how critical the airport remains for the region’s business growth and service for its colleges and universities, Little League World Series and transportation needs.
Meuser updated those attending the conference on his testimony in April before the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee during its annual “Member Day.”
Member Days give representatives who do not serve on a particular Committee the opportunity to address the committee directly about an issue that falls under its jurisdiction.
Meuser said he used this opportunity to urge the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to support his recently introduced Supporting Middle America’s Airports Act, which would help restore commercial air service at Williamsport Regional Airport.
“Not only would it be an economic boon for our community, but it would dramatically expand access to air service for folks in our region, help alleviate congestion at major airports throughout Pennsylvania, and make flying safer by easing the burden on individual air traffic controllers,” he said.
Meuser said he advocated to reopen the Essential Air Service program, which would be a major step toward bringing commercial flights back to Williamsport.
“Williamsport is already a great place to live, work and raise a family, and we have a real opportunity to make it even better,” Meuser testified.
“I have fought for the Williamsport airport, including by securing federal funding, because this airport is a lifeline for Lycoming County and the region,” U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, said ahead of the conference.
In 2012, Casey delivered a $500,000 Small Community Air Service Development grant from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to Williamsport Regional Airport to recruit additional commercial air service and spur opportunities for economic growth in this region. In 2021, as a result of Casey’s efforts, Williamsport’s airport received $950,000 from the FAA to retain air service amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Casey, according to the statement from his office, also voted in favor of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which, to date, has invested $3.73 million in the airport to make key infrastructure, including a $700,000 grant to renovate a control tower.
Joining Meuser in affirming the importance of restoring commercial air service to the airport were state Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township, and Lycoming County Commissioners Scott Metzger and Mark Mussina.
Also expressing hope given an opportunity to once-again serve 10-plus counties by air was Richard Howell, airport executive director.
“I welcome this commitment on the part of our new airline partner, Southern Airways Express,” Howell said. He added the partnership will offer “our community more travel flexibility than ever before.”
Tickets will be available for purchase on United.com, AA.com, AlaskaAir.com and iFlySouthern.com.
Southern will operate flights using Cessna Grand Caravan turboprop aircraft, with two pilots.
Howell was upbeat, but cautioned that this was a big first step.
“Air service is like a muscle — if you don’t use it, it is going away,” Howell said.